Future historians will likely look upon 2011 as the watershed year for the mass exodus of young Greeks abroad. The preliminary results of a study conducted by the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence in cooperation with Trinity College Dublin, the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid and the Technical University of Lisbon on European migration from the crisis-hit nations of Europe’s south and Ireland, has confirmed many suspicions and revealed unpleasant truths too.
“The study had 7,077 participants, of whom 919 were Greeks,” said Roubini Gropas, an EUI researcher responsible for the study along with Anna Triandafyllidou from the same university.
According to the scholars, the year when the real brain drain began in Greece was 2011. It peaked in 2012 and has continued at a steady pace this year. A quarter of Greeks seeking greener pastures headed for the United Kingdom, while most of the rest settled in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States.
“However, taking into account the official unemployment numbers, especially in Greece and Spain, the number of emigres so far is not that impressive,” commented Gropas.
The highest percentage of emigres was recorded in Portugal, with 2,500 respondents in the study, while Italy showed a remarkably low number, with just 1,000 respondents.
“In Ireland, which saw the first signs of flight in 2009, the phenomenon is beginning to lose momentum, while the Italian economy is also showing signs of resistance,” said Gropas.
What the study did confirm, however, was that the majority of citizens who decide to leave have a high education level, with the percentage of degree holders among the Greek emigres reaching 89 percent. Specifically, 24.5 percent of the 919 Greeks who have moved from the country since 2011 and participated in the study are engineers, 22.3 percent are in finance and business management, 18 percent are in information technology and computer sciences, 12 percent are mathematicians and another 12 percent are social scientists. As far as their ages are concerned, 48 percent are under 30 and 49 percent are aged between 31 and 45.
“Contrary to popular belief, 51 percent of the Greek participants had jobs in Greece when they decided to move,” said Gropas. “Of course they may have been unhappy with the conditions, their prospects and their salaries, but they were not in dire straits.”
The researcher says that this fact is corroborated by the other responses from the participants in the survey.
“They all talk about feeling that they were at a dead end in their careers at home and were emigrating, literally, in order to build a better future for themselves and their families,” said Gropas.
Their aspirations appear to have been vindicated, as 73 percent of all respondents said they were happy with their new jobs abroad.
The Greek emigres appear not just to be well educated and good at their jobs, but also to have a spirit of adventure, as 46 percent said that it was the first time they had ever lived abroad.
“What is also a first in the history of immigration is that no one mentions having family or friends in the country they moved to,” added Gropas.
In the past, Greeks tended to move in with relatives in the US or with university friends in the UK while looking for a job, whereas now, “social networks do not play a role, as young Greeks find jobs on their own, without the help of their acquaintances,” said the researcher.
“What prompted me to leave? The lack of meritocracy, the fact that there are zero opportunities for people my age, the political and the social crisis, as well as the rise in the popularity of Golden Dawn [the neo-Nazi political party],” said one respondent, who preferred to remain anonymous.
“Greece today has become a country I don’t want to be a part of,” said another.
“At the age of 27, I was not seen as being capable enough in Greece to hold a responsible professional post, one which was later offered to me in England,” responded another respondent.
As far as their future plans are concerned, 43 percent of the 919 Greek participants in the study said that they are in it for the long haul and plan to stay in their new country of choice for at least five years, 27 percent are making plans for the next two to five years, 14 percent are ready for new adventures and possibly another relocation, and 16 percent are unsure of what they want for the future.